Monday, December 01, 2008

Google Groups, CTC and me...

I am not a regular user of Google groups. I’ve subscribed to very few groups. Recently I (not once but twice) irritated nearly 1000 members of CTC (Chennai Trekkers Club) by sending mails to whole group, instead of a specific person (author of the thread). It was not intended, but the damage caused was permanent- everyone receiving mails not meant for them-few continuing the thread with replies (to the entire group) like “no one should reply to the whole group and reply to authors only”, “please stop discussing more on this topic-we don’t want to receive any more mails”, “keep me out of this”, “why are you spamming others”, “here are the guidelines every member should follow” creating a mayhem ensuring a series of unsolicited disturbance to everyone. Few mails landed in my inbox from blackberries expressing how disturbed they are to see unrelated mails landing in their inbox.

I regret the inconvenience caused to CTC members by my ‘reply’ and this post shares few observations in Google group’s design, which I feel can be improved. (not blaming Google for my carelessness, but just mentioning a few possible inbuilt controls will make the system more resistant to user errors and add to convenience of the members)

1. Misleading button positioning
Gmail has ‘reply’ button on the left, which sends reply only to the sender and ‘reply all’ button on the right, which sends your reply to everyone. On the contrary, in Google groups, the reply button on the left sends reply to entire group, while ‘reply to author’ button is on the right, which sends the reply only to authors. As a not so frequent user of Google groups, I did a mistake of selecting reply button, as I do always in email and the mail went to all group members, while I was expected to use ‘reply to author’ button on the right. Moving reply to author button to left and/or renaming ‘reply’ to ‘reply to all’ would remove any ambiguity. (It is positioned that way, probably because primary purpose of having a group is discuss your message with everyone and not with one individual. Regular users might be used to this-I’m a not so frequent visitor, so find it odd)

2. Trigger mail with a small delay
All email alert systems-the blogging platforms, forums, groups, websites send out email alerts instantaneously after the occurrence of the event (publishing a comment or posting a reply etc). If someone commits a mistake (wrong posting, spell errors etc) he/she will not have a chance to correct his/her mistakes as the mail would be already gone and damage caused will be permanent. If these platforms can send the mail after a delay of few minutes, author will get a chance to correct his/her mistake. I am sure a delay of few minutes will not cause any harm to anyone. Many a times I get mails in duplicate- someone submits a comment, realizes some mistake in it, deletes it and resubmits the corrected one, but I get both earlier and corrected mails. Some wordpress plugins allow readers to edit their comment within initial few minutes. Most of the forums as well as Google groups have options to edit/delete a post, but there is no way to recall the email triggered.

3. Thread specific alerts/unsubscribe options
In forums like Indiamike, you’ll get an email alert when someone replies to your thread (or any thread you’ve chosen to receive email alerts). Unless you click on the link and visit the site, you’ll not receive any subsequent alerts, even if others post replies. In other words, if you do not want to receive email updates for a while, just ignore the first alert as long as you wish- no more mails will come to your inbox till you visit the forum. But Google groups doesn’t have this option. Members can not subscribe or unsubscribe from a specific thread. The only option is to shift to digest mails (once a day updates or an update after every say 12 posts) or to receive no mails at all. While it is recommended that people subscribe to digests or daily updates, many do prefer to receive live email updates, either because they need to monitor and regulate the group, or they are very much interested/involved in the topics and wish keep a close watch on all discussions. A few unrelated mails a day can easily spoil their mood.


Purpose of having any group is to facilitate discussion between members. Usually that’s what people think they do, when they reply to threads. But what’s ‘discussion’ to one can become ‘SPAM’ to someone else. When member base touches thousands, there will be several posts every day, some may be relevant to all, some relevant to few and others to none. When the group platform doesn’t offer adequate controls to stay isolated from unrelated posts, we’ll need to rely solely on judgment of members to post only useful contents. Usefulness is subjective and often can create a clash as to if a particular content is useful or not. Also in forums people do not care to search the existing threads/links for the information they’re looking for, as they find it easy to create a new thread and post their questions. Others who’ve already written about it or have answered it somewhere, feel this repetition as avoidable and spam.

Another wise decision will be not to subscribe using your primary email ID/company ID to public groups.

No major complaints on Google groups as such. It simple to create and operate, free and integrates well with other Google products-just a few thoughts which I felt might be useful in making this platform more effective. Your suggestions welcome.

Related posts: Treks I did with CTC: Nagala, Parvathamalai and Nagari * Tada Hills * Yelagiri *Talakona, Tirupati * Skanda Giri (Bangalore) * Ramanagaram/Antaragange* Venkatagiri * Javadhu* Anantagiri (AP)

Similar: Few tips how Google can make orkut a better place * Deep Forest Trekking- An experience and tips *

8 comments:

Sandesh said...

Guess you need to enable the mail goggles option of gmail which you can do so by going settings->labs tab.

Check it out.

Sandesh said...

Also, the canned responses option in the same tab.

Have a look at many of google labs gadgets. Seems interesting.

Mohan said...

Shrinidhi,

I never liked google services except their 'search'. I know there will be lot of people to debate on that and it is a very subjective as well as relative topic.

May be that I am too obsessed with Yahoo! since they pay for my bread and butter :) I can't stop bleeding purple...

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Sandesh,

I don't want to change gmail to look similar to Google groups- can I do it other way round?

Mohan,
I do understand and respect your sentiments. I am equidistant from both- I am not a regular user of Yahoo groups either :)

Sandesh said...

You dont need to change gmail like googlegroups, they are simple addon kindathings that you get with firefox!

try it out once! If you dont like them, you can always disable them. no harm.

=)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

sandesh,
I don't use Firefox. Also my usage of Google groups is minimum. So as of now I don't see a need to worry too much on this

Thanks again

Anil P said...

I think it's alright if a mail or two lands uninvited into the inbox. More so for a club this big. I don't see why folks had to react like you woke them up on a Sunday afternoon :)

Shrinidhi Hande said...

Hey Anil,

Glad to see you commenting here.

How do you do? Long time no contact...

Btb I am fine with that. Only few reacted, that too in a fairly friendly manner.

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